Sunday, December 28, 2008

What Do I Know?

If there's anything I have learned from today, it's that picking NFL games is not easy. With my current standing of 4-6, and the Chargers appearing to have a win versus the Broncos secure (that will set me back to 4-7), it is safe to say I didn't do too hot. And there's another interception for the Chargers. But hey, I took some chances. Touchdown San Diego: 38-13. My two upset alerts kept it close. The Lions hung in there until the end. The Saints had Carolina beat until a last second field goal by Kasay. And Drew Brees was a completed pass on his last throw away from breaking Dan Marino's record. I took a chance on the Bears, but Andre Johnson and the Texans were too much for the Bears' defense. Carney's missed field goal cost me my Giants pick. And the Buccaneers and the Jets just didn't perform. However there is no need for me to make excuses. I made my picks and like in most poker games as of late, the chips failed to fall my way. Aside from my inability to pick in Week 17, I also learned a few other things about the NFL.

1. The Lions aren't the only pathetic team in the NFL. Let's not forget to add the Buccaneers, Broncos, and Jets to the list. After a disappointing loss to Brad Johnson and the Cowboys, the Buccaneers won 3 straight and had a lot of analysts believing in the team. However, with a playoff spot easily within site, the Buccaneers lost, and they lost, and they lost twice more. They were even humiliated by the 6-8 Chargers and 4-11 Raiders at home. To summarize in one word: pathetic. But hey, Philadelphia couldn't be happier about it. The Broncos held a 3-game lead in their horrid division with 3 weeks remaining, but failed to muster up a win in all 3 weeks, allowing the 4-8 Chargers to come all the way back and win the division at 8-8. Impressive guys. And the Jets, fresh off their two wins against Tennessee and New England, must have felt a little overconfident for the next 5. Favre's arrogant comments after the Tennesee win, saying something along the lines of, "I'm not saying we're the best team in the league, but we just beat the best team in the NFL" (seemingly inferring that they were indeed the best), proved to be laughable as they lost 4 of their last 5 games when it mattered; failing to even make the playoffs. The Lions should be ashamed of their record-breaking season, but if its any comfort to them, they should know that they're not the only pathetic team in the league.

2. The lower seeds are the ones to watch out for. The teams that generally make noise come playoff time are, more often than not, the hottest teams going into the playoffs. Who's hot? Indianapolis, San Diego, Miami, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Atlanta. Four Wild-card teams and a #3 and #4 seed. It'll take some hard-fought road wins, but these teams are very capable of making a run at the Super Bowl. Indianapolis has won 9 straight and are confident as ever. The Super Bowl champs from two years ago look top notch and are undoubtedly the hottest team in the NFL. The only question mark appears to be the running game. If Addai can get going, this team will be lethal in the AFC race. San Diego is riding a four game win-streak entering the playoffs, emerging from the worst division with an 8-8 record. However, they cannot be overlooked. They've been a threat to win the Super Bowl the last few years, and aside from the loss of Shawn Merriman, they're the same team. A first round upset of Indianapolis would make a huge statement, and scare a lot of AFC teams. The surprise team of the year, Miami, has won five straight. In a tight playoff race with New England and New York, the Dolphins never faltered. It has been a storybook season for the Dolphins who tied the biggest turnaround in NFL history, rebounding from 1-15 season just a year ago. I don't think it'll end as Cinderella-esque as a Super Bowl title, but the Dolphins will certaintly be able to build from this for years to come. Atlanta and Baltimore look stronger every week, and I fear Philadelphia in the NFC. There's no one they think they can't beat out of the NFC, and their defense and offense are clicking at just the right time. I think the only thing that could slow them down would be a lapse-game like the one in Washington last week.

3. It's time for Jerry Jones to coach the Cowboys. I'm tired of hearing Jerry Jones criticize his players and coaching staff. He takes chances on all of the ex-convicts and troublemakers, encourages drama, and expects his coaches to overcome it. I think it's time for Jones to walk the walk rather than continue to talk the talk. Seeing him coach would give me so much enjoyment, because he seems to think he knows everything. Oh ya Jerry? I say prove it. Show Wade Phillips what he's doing wrong. Help Tony Romo win the big game. Keep TO in line. Toughen Marion Barber up so he doesn't sit any more games out with an injury. It's so easy from upstairs in the booth right? Be a man and put the headset on. Rest the team on your shoulders and see what happens. I think it would give a much needed laugh to NFL fans across the country.

4. Chad Pennington deserves some respect. For years I've ridiculed Chad and his arm strength. But that never stopped Chad. He just kept playing his game, and doing it well. And look where it has gotten him. Back in the playoffs after leading his team to a division-clinching win against the team that no longer needed his services: the New York Jets. Good for you Chad. Not only did he display an arm strength I hadn't seen from him since his days at Marshall, he also made few mistakes, and came through for his team when they needed him. It's been a storybook year for Chad and the Dolphins. It was hard-earned and much deserved. It was nice to see a good guy like Chad overcome two rotator cuff injuries (unheard of), and stick it to the team that sold him out for Old Faithful.

5. If it wasn't obvious before, Brett Favre should retire already. A good team took Brett a long way last year. Then he sold out the franchise that had been good to him for so long and signed with the Jets. The washed-up Favre had a nice stat-padding game versus the Cardinals and rode Thomas Jones to an 8-3 record early on. But when the season carried on, and the Jets relied more on Favre (why I don't know), his age caught up to him and the Jets' losses nearly caught up to their wins. Throughout the year Favre made countless terrible decisions, costing the Jets many crucial possessions and games. It was only fitting that Favre ended his season on a bonehead, rushed play he called himself, tossing what would be the game-ending interception; the story of his season. He finished the year with 22 TDs and a league-leading 22 INTs. He certaintly widened the gap for his career interceptions record. Yet Favre, somehow made the Pro Bowl. That makes sense right? Phillip Rivers was tied for the NFL lead with 34 TD passes to only 11 interceptions and Chad Pennington had 19 TDs to 7 INTs, throwing for more yards than Favre in the process. Oh yeah, and they made the playoffs too. I would be embarassed to go to the Pro Bowl if I were Favre. So what did Brett accomplish? Once again, the Jets failed to make the playoffs. Mangini is now fired, because Brett didn't like being treated equally with all the other players. Ya see at Green Bay Brett could do whatever he wanted and no one ever yelled at him. Mangini scolded Favre for his reckless throws and decisions, and Favre couldn't take the heat he deserved. He wasn't pampered like he was in Green Bay, so he complained. Now Mangini is without a job. Favre can hurt the Jets in two ways: returning or leaving. Either way the Jets will struggle. I say get out of there why you can Brett. You already missed the perfect season to throw in the towel (last year), it's only going to get worse. Do yourself a favor and retire.

6. Drew Brees is a heck of a quarterback. Drew I hope that team builds around you sometime soon, because you've been a real diamond in the rough. He deserved that record this year. Unfortunately his receiver quit on his route and cost him the passing record I thought would forever be untouched. Who knows, maybe next year Drew. If the Saints could string together a defense and stay healthy on offense they would be something else. Only time will tell if that will ever happen. Until it does, hang in there Drew.

7. Hats off to Matt Cassel and Bill Belichick. After losing the NFL's best player, it would be easy for a coach and team to roll over and give up on the season. But not Bill Belichick and the Patriots. Many people expected the Pats to explore the free agent market. However, Belichick said from day one that Matt Cassel was their quarterback. He stood by his quarterback through the tough weeks and built a confidence in him and his team that only grew stronger as the season went on. A chaotic season left the 11-5 Patriots out of the playoffs (only the second time that has ever happened). But the Patriots showed themselves what they are capable of and found an emerging bright star on their roster. Belichick put forth quite possibly his most impressive season as a coach. It should be interesting to see how Cassel fairs in his second season if Brady is forced to sit out another year. Could we have a quarterback controversy with Tom Brady? Wouldn't that be something?

Images taken from Yahoo! Sports

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Up For Grabs...

With only one week remaining in an eventful NFL season, both the AFC & NFC playoff spots are far from set in stone. Five teams in each conference remain in contention. The AFC East is up for grabs between three teams (Miami, New England, & New York). All are eligible for the last Wild-card spot as well. San Diego, at 7-8, and Denver, at 8-7, sadly still control their own fate. And the Ravens are in with a win as well. On the NFC side, Minnesota and Chicago are fighting for the NFC North title, and Dallas, Tampa Bay, and even Philadelphia have a shot at the Wild-card. I cannot remember a closer playoff race. Even though anything can happen, I'm going to tell you what I think will happen. Here's a breakdown of the games that matter.

Chicago 27 - Green Bay 20 (tonight)
In their last meeting, Green Bay embarassed the Bears 37-3. I look for a complete turnaround in Chi-town, as the Bears keep their playoff hopes alive.

Next week:
Jacksonville 13 - Baltimore 16
It's easy to overlook the 5-10 Jaguars, as we almost saw last week with the Colts. The Ravens are a good home team and showed what they're capable of against Dallas. I look for them to squeeze out a victory, earning a trip back to the playoffs.

Miami 24 - Jets 30
Although Chad only came inches short of taking down the Jets in their first contest and the Dolphins seem to be even better, I think the home team takes this one. The undeserving pro-bowler, Brett Favre, has been horrid as of late, making countless reckless decisions. However, he's always been one for the big game. And this one's a big game. I think his luck lands him the 10-6 record I predicted for them the day he signed.

New England 34 - Buffalo 20
The Patriots are a big game team. The Giants shocked them last year, but they won't let the Bills. Matt Cassel has been a great story for the Pats, and should carry a confident New England team to an unexpected 11-5 record.

Denver 24 - San Diego 23
Denver has been pitiful as of late, and San Diego is looking its best. The Chargers have the home crowd on their side and are out to avenge the unfortunate miscue by Ed Hoculi in Week 2. Brandon Marshall, like most followers of the game, seems to be doubting his team (Denver). However, midway through the season I said this division title would come down to this game and that Denver would pull it out, so I'm standing by that prediction.

Giants 27 - Minnesota 20
The Giants don't need to win this game. The Vikings own the Giants. Darren Sharper owns Eli Manning. But last year the Giants decided not to lay down against the Patriots in Week 17, and look what it got them: A Super Bowl Championship. Even so, I think it'll be best to let Jacobs lay down and nurse his knee for the playoffs. The Vikings are going to want this game more. Adrian Peterson is good, real good. But the game is in Minnesota. I like Eli and the Giants in a dome. I think the Bears will be thanking them come next Sunday.

Oakland 10 - Tampa Bay 27
Tampa Bay was really pathetic this week. I mean they were bad. But they'll get a win, and hope for a Dallas loss.

Dallas 20 - Philadelphia 23
I really thought Philadelphia would win out and steal the last playoff spot. But unfortunately for them, they rolled over against the Redskins and killed almost any chance of making the playoffs. What better way to salvage likely missing the playoffs? Ruin Dallas' playoff hopes. I think Donovan, Andy, and Brian, will do just that. Maybe next year TO.

Chicago 21 - Houston 16
This is a tough one. Houston is real good at home. This would be a horrible way for the Bears to go down, but would make sense judging by their season thus far. I gotta take the Bears though. It'd be ridiculous if they made the playoffs. But maybe, its just ridiculous enough.

Upset Alerts:
Carolina 27 - New Orleans 38
Home teams just win in these divisional matchups. Drew Brees is going to throw for exactly 402 yards and break Marino's single-season record for passing by 1 yard, and John Fox will be in disbelief as the Falcons earn a first round bye in the playoffs. Michael Vick will realize his term with the Falcons is over, but Jerry Jones will take a chance on him.

Detroit 34 - Green Bay 23
The Lions will head into Lambeau and win their Super Bowl on the frozen tundra of Lambeau field! How? I don't know. Something crazy will happen.

Practically EVERY game matters this weekend! It's pretty ridiculous. But then again, Dan Orlovsky did drop back out of the endzone, then continue to roll out out of bounds for 5 yards before realizing he's an idiot.

So what does this all mean? Here's how the playoff picture will shape up:

1. Tennessee Titans
2. Pittsburgh Steelers
3. New England Patriots
4. Denver Broncos
5. Indianapolis Colts
6. Baltimore Ravens

1. New York Giants
2. Atlanta Falcons (what!?)
3. Chicago Bears
4. Arizona Cardinals
5. Carolina Panthers
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Image taken from Yahoo! Sports

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Filling the Voids...

Flashback to two weeks ago. The Giants were sitting pretty at 11-1. They held the #1 spot in the NFL Power Rankings. And it seemed they were likely to make a run at a second straight Super Bowl title. Now take yourself back to today. Here's a recap of the last two weeks. First, the Giants' star wide receiver, Plaxico Burress, was placed on their reserve/ non-football injury list. In short, his season and quite possibly his term with the Giants, is over. After the Giants assured fans they would move on and play at the same level without Burress, they were dominated at home the next weekend versus the Eagles (20-14). Thanks to a Dallas loss though, the Giants clinched the NFC East and stayed confident the team would be fine. But the game against Philadelphia brought another problem, aside from the loss. To add insult to injury, Brandon Jacobs' questionable knee took more of a beating and now leaves him sidelined until further notice. Last night, with a crucial game next week against Carolina looming, the Giants rolled into Dallas, looking to bounce back. They had the opportunity to cripple the Cowboys playoff hopes and maintain some separation from the Panthers for home-field throughout the playoffs. However without Jacobs and Burress, the Giants offense made the Cowboys' defense look like the best in the NFL. The offensive line surrendered 8 sacks and suffered what Giants' fans can only hope to be a minor injury to offensive tackle, Kareem McKenzie. Eli barely completed 50% of his passes, throwing two interceptions in the process. And the NFL's leading rushing attack, with a Jacob-less backfield, was held to just 72 yards on the ground. It was ugly and well, pathetic. The Giants defense played strong, but with no help from its offense, it was only a matter of time before the Cowboys scored some timely TDs, en route to a victory (20-8). In summary, it has been a bad couple of weeks for the Giants. And by the looks of it, it might only get worse.

As I watched every aching moment of the game tonight, I could only find myself thinking of the potentially dismal future ahead. The Giants cannot use the excuse that it was simply one of those "let-down" games. In a rivalry game as big as the one versus Dallas, that's hardly an excuse. The worst part is, Dallas isn't that good. For most of the game, they had just trouble moving the ball as the Giants did, but I noticed a distinct difference. Dallas was up against a solid defensive unit that battered Romo; yet they stayed confident. The Giants, on the other hand, looked flat-out scared and lost. The offensive line was dominated, the wide receivers were pressed on the line, and Eli didn't know what to do. He sat in the pocket and took a beating, time, after time, after time. They were flustered the entire game and never had any type of rhythm on offense. They looked like a team with no confidence in themselves, wishing the reliant stars in absence were there.

Jacobs is the heart of this football team. He's a near unstoppable force in the backfield that actually puts fear into the linebackers attempting to hit him. There's no other running back in the game a person could say that about. He doesn't get hit...he hits people. Once the opposing defense is keyed in on stopping Jacobs, Ward's change of pace gives him an extra step on defenders. With 1/2 of the puzzle gone, the NFL's leading rushing attack isn't so effective (as was seen in Dallas).

Burress is a much bigger loss than people realize as well. Yes, his numbers were hardly impressive this year, but that's not what it all boils down to. Plaxico brings an element to the field that no other Giants' wideout can. He forces you to double cover him, and yet he can still make big plays in the process. At 6'5, 232, with speed, defenses cannot ignore him. This creates room for Toomer, Smith, Boss, and Hixon to get open from all angles. It also alleviates the pressure of making the big play, because they all know Plax can cover their slack if need be. With Burress gone, it puts the burden on the rest of the guys to carry their own load in more difficult coverages with more difficult matchups. With his receivers struggling to get open, Manning feels the pressure in the pocket much more, and his chances of getting a good throw off diminish. An unproductive Burress did a lot more for this Giants team than I think they realize.

For the Giants to have a shot at the Super Bowl they need at least a few things to happen. Jacobs and McKenzie need to get healthy and return to the lineup at full strength. Additionally, Gilbride needs to create a new look for his offense without Burress. And lastly, the Giants need to find that confidence they had in themselves last season. They cannot afford to let back-to-back losses set them back and strike their confidence. With a healthy lineup and a new scheme, the Giants can pull-off what they set to accomplish. However without Burress, it is going to take a lot more than they thought to do so. With the injuries that they have, and the absence of Burress, the Giants aren't the team they were just a few weeks ago. Unless things change, a repeat is unlikely.

Images taken from Yahoo! Sports